What does it mean to be Lutheran?
By ELS President John A. Moldstad (from the ELS website www.evangelicallutheransynod.org)
The “Lutheran” label may not mean much for many today. A large segment of Lutheranism has softened or even abandoned the theology characteristic of the great reformer. Luther himself took for granted that the Bible is verbally inspired and inerrant in all it presents.
But the following may help: To be truly Lutheran is to acknowledge justification as the central teaching in Scripture. We are by nature sinful and enemies of God and would perish forever in hell without God providing his plan of salvation for us. But we learn that Jesus, God’s own Son, took upon Himself our human flesh without sinning and willingly carried out complete atonement for the guilt and punishment of our sins and the sins of the whole world. He substituted His life of holiness for ours. He substituted His accursed death at the cross for the hell we had deserved. God declared the whole world forgiven through Jesus’ death and resurrection. A person is now justified – declared holy – in the sight of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no room for work-righteousness (i.e., earning salvation by one’s efforts) in Lutheran doctrine. Only God’s grace in Christ saves (Rom. 3:20-24, Eph. 3:8, 9).
A true Lutheran also confesses that God brings the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ to our individual hearts by using certain means. These means are the Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Only through these means does the Holy Spirit work faith in the hearts of sinners. The message of the Gospel is not just a statement of historical fact, but a powerful, living word that brings life to the sin-darkened soul. Baptism is not just a symbolical washing. It is a “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” The Lord’s Supper is not just a meal of bread and wine reminding us of Christ’s death. It is the true body and blood of Christ that is offered the recipient “for the remission of sins.”
Many other things fall under the heading of true Lutheranism. The teachings are listed in the Book of Concord. This book contains the Lutheran Confessions (the three universal Creeds, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, and the Formula of Concord). A true Lutheran accepts these Confessions because they are the teachings found in God’s Word. The Lutheran Confessions especially help a person distinguish between the two important teachings in the Bible – Law and Gospel.
A true Lutheran confesses and teaches only what is clearly taught in Scripture, not going beyond it and not being satisfied with less. Although a teaching from Scripture may not seem logical or reasonable, a Lutheran accepts it as true because it is God’s truth, and all doctrines in the Bible support the main one: justification by grace through faith in Christ. This is why we often use the three “alones” to describe Lutheranism: SCRIPTURE ALONE, GRACE ALONE, and FAITH ALONE.
J. A. Moldstad